Wednesday, February 19, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Legislature to vote again

The House of Representatives on Tuesday narrowly missed getting a three-fourths supermajority to fund private-option insurance, but House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) said he will try again today. He predicts passage sooner or later in the House. Rejecting the option would mean the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid funds and the loss of thousands of health-related jobs, especially in central Arkansas.

The Senate will likely pass the bill after Rep. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) had a change of heart and announced she would support the private option after all.

English has not let us down: We’ve urged her for weeks to throw her support behind the private option so that the newly insured can keep their coverage and hospitals in and around her district can remain open.

Although she opposed the private option last year, she said Tuesday she will vote to fund the private option, which will give the program the three-fourths majority needed to pass in the Senate.

English was promised $15-$24 million for additional workforce training by the state and perhaps a new veterans home in North Little Rock, which is supported by the Arkansas Veterans Commission.

English was executive director of the Arkansas Workforce Investment Board under Gov. Mike Huckabee. Job creation has always been on top of her agenda. Expanding insurance for 150,000 Arkansans will not only provide better health care for them but will also create thousands of jobs in hospitals and doctors’ offices.

English’s constituents have access to more hospitals than perhaps any area in the state — as many as half a dozen — but most of them are struggling. UAMS has said it would have to cut $9 million from its budget if the private option weren’t funded.

Until now, she voted with a band of know-nothings — mostly from north Arkansas — plus the hapless Joe Farrer (R-Austin), a physical therapist at North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville who represents House Dist. 44. Everyone else from central Arkansas has supported the private option, which pays for private health insurance entirely with federal funds. It makes no sense to turn that money down.

North Metro, which is struggling to pay its utility bills, has written off millions of dollars in bad debt from uninsured patients. With the private option, the hospital will at least have a fighting chance as everyone will have some kind of coverage. Why Farrer won’t throw his own employer a lifeline is something the hospital might discuss with him today, before the House votes on the bill once again. His constituents should also contact him and urge him to switch sides and follow English’s example.

Carter has warned colleagues that failure to approve the funding could cost the state $80 million to $100 million and create a shortfall that would have to be made up at the detriment of other needs, including new prison beds to ease overcrowding.

“We’re leading the country on health care,” said Carter, who showed real leadership throughout the fight to pass and fund private option. He also said, if the state loses private-option funding, there would be an $89 million decrease in revenue immediately. He said small businesses could face fines up to $38 million and hospitals and clinics may be forced to close.

Rep. Jim Nickels (D-Sherwood) has been one of the strongest supporters of the private option. Nickels said, “We have 100,000 covered. I can’t see the state legislature kicking these folks to the street.”

If the private option is not funded, it wrecks the budget, Nickels said. The General Assembly approved tax cuts after passing the private option because of the federal money that would be generated for private insurance.

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) said all along he believed a compromise was possible.

Williams, who voted for the private option in 2013, contacted wavering colleagues for months. “I asked what will we do with the people who signed up if this thing collapses,” he said. “A substantial number that have signed up have come out of state programs.”

Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy), the future Senate president, has said getting the facts to the legislators is the key. “It goes back to making sure members have the information to make an educated vote,” Dismang said.

Responsible legislative leaders have explained the importance of funding the private option. The rest of the legislature — especially Rep. Farrer — should go along and honor the wishes of the people of Arkansas and support health care for everyone.

After all, Farrer’s job could depend on passing the private option. This could be the last opportunity for North Metro to remain open.

TOP STORY >> Geriatrician: Live life to the fullest

Leader staff writer

Live life to the fullest and nurture loving relationships to stay healthy, Little Rock geriatrician Dr. David Lipschitz told seniors Thursday during the North Pulaski Retired Teachers Association meeting.

He was the guest speaker for the event held in the meeting room at First Electric Cooperative, 1000 S. JP Wright Loop Road in Jacksonville.

Lipschitz said he just turned 70, as old as some and younger than others in attendance. “And all of us are still frisky. The idea we’re elderly is just ridiculous…One of the advantages of being 70 is I am still able to do everything I want, but I’m wiser,” he said.

“You can retire from your job, but you cannot retire from life,” Lipschitz added later. “We’re free to be who we want to be.”

He briefly threw his hat in the ring concerning Arkansas’ unique private-option health care plan that is facing the threat of being defunded this session.

The private option must get 75 percent approval from the House to accept and spend federal money on health coverage for the working poor. The House failed to do so Tuesday, but will vote again today.

Private option was the state’s unique way to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, which includes Medicaid expansion.

Lipschitz said the older generation needed to gain more education about how to navigate the health-care system.

He isn’t pro-Democrat or pro-Republican, the geriatrician insisted. Lipschitz described himself as “pro-health.”

He never turns anyone away, whether they have insurance or not, he continued.

He has been fired for costing a hospital too much money because of that attitude, Lipschitz said.

The geriatrician said everyone deserves a roof over their heads, an education, food and access to health care. He added that America is unhealthier than any other first-world country.

Lipschitz blamed the disparity of income and the “sedentary and wrong-eating” lifestyles that are common here for that fact.

The uninsured were draining resources by going to the emergency room to see a doctor and by seeking medical attention only when they were very ill, Lipschitz continued.

The state’s private-option approach is “working,” he argued.

Lipschitz then asked that those in the room call their representatives in the House and Senate to weigh in on the funding decision.

But the health-care talk was only a brief subtopic of what the geriatrician discussed during the meeting.

Lipschitz said 60,000 people retire every day, and that number will increase to 100,000 in the next five years.

There is power in numbers, he noted. Lipschitz said his generation — the generation most of his audience was a part of — would determine who leads the country and what direction it will take. “We are the No. 1 spender, and everybody is interested in us,” he added.

But Lipschitz focused most on how long-term relationships play a role in health.

The stress of day-to-day life is a critical factor in health, he noted.

Love of others — romantic or platonic — and love of oneself relieves that stress.

The geriatrician was very supportive of long-term romantic relationships. A 70-year-old man has a 30 percent chance of dying within a year of his wife’s death, he told the crowd.

Lipschitz said, “Love is one of the most important keys to longevity” and “if you want to be a better man, think like a woman.”

He also said there are three kinds of widows — women like his mother, women like his aunt and women who aren’t interested in dating because their late husband was the only one for them.

His mother knew how to flirt, having three husbands and one long-term significant other. “All four died from exhaustion,” Lipschitz joked.

Then there is his aunt, who asks the geriatrician to find her a man. Lipschitz said she struggles with dating, telling him, “The only problem is they’re all with your mother.”

Laughter is also great medicine, he continued.

“The only infectious thing that is good for you is laughter,” Lipschitz said.

Seniors need to watch what they eat too, he noted. The geriatrician said seniors should consume the right fats, the right proteins, plenty of fruits and vegetables and not too much starch.

Lipschitz also encouraged the parents at the meeting to be prepared for dependency as they age because only one-third of the older population is independent.

Half of 85-year-olds and between 10 and 15 percent of 90- to 95-year-olds are able to live independently, the geriatrician explained.

Lipschitz told those at the meeting to stop feeling bad about burdening their children after all they’ve done for their kids. He urged the seniors to tell their children, “You owe me.”

Lipschitz then joked about his mother being the “world authority on Jewish guilt.”

He said she always says things like, “thank God your father is not alive to see you,” “with you as a son, it’s no wonder I have high blood pressure” and “of my children, you’re the brightest but not my favorite.”

But, the geriatrician explained, he knew his mother loved him because she would always place her hand on people’s shoulders and brag, “he’s done very well.”

Relationships with parents, children, the community, friends, acquaintances and others also provide life-extending love, Lipschitz.

The geriatrician’s Dr. David Health and Wellness Clinic is at 415 N. McKinley St., Suite 130 in Little Rock.

TOP STORY >> Agriculture gets lifeline

Leader senior staff writer

The good thing about the 2014 farm bill is that it’s finally passed and some of the uncertainty is resolved for Arkansas farmers who grow rice and other crops, according to Chuck Wilson, USARice Federation director of Arkansas field services at Stuttgart.

Wilson, state Agriculture Secretary Butch Calhoun and area farmers have all expressed relief and gratitude for the new bill.

Still, the devil is in the details, and Lonoke County farmer Dow Brantley says producers need to know more before planting time, which begins in mid-March.

“Now that we know what is in it, we can go to lending institutions and borrow the money to put in a crop,” Wilson said.

“Consumers as a whole should be pleased, as well,” he said. “A small amount is for farmers, a huge amount is for food stamps” and other programs.


“It’s something we need for stability for the food supply,” Wilson said. “That’s why the U.S. has the safest, most abundant food in the world.”

So the law is written, but the rules and policies interpreting those rules won’t all be complete for months. After the rules are written, the effect can be different than the intent, Wilson said.

The farm bill — the first in three years — included several changes, such as cuts of $8 billion in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over the next 10 years.

Those cuts, in the “Eat and Heat” program, won’t affect Arkansans, according to the local Department of Human Services spokesperson, who says the state doesn’t operate that program.


Another thing that’s not in the bill  is direct payment for farmers. That is a shift toward various forms of insurance.

This farm bill has two options the previous bill didn’t. There are two routes for helping farmers — a revenue source and a production source.

One highlight of the new farm bill for farmers is that it raises target prices  so if they are not met, insurance will make up the difference.

The target price for corn was $2.63 a bushel last year, but has been raised more than a dollar to $3.70, according to Calhoun. That’s a 30 percent increase.


The bill raises the target price for rice from $10.50 a hundred weight to $14 and soybeans, previously targeted at $6 a bushel, is now at $8.40.
But farmers can’t sign up for anything yet, Calhoun said.

The USDA also is “working on some stuff” to help livestock producers recover from the 2012 drought, he said.

“The USA Rice Federation is working to get an understanding of the bill, and we’re going to have grower meetings,” according to Wilson, who said the dates and locations would soon be announced.

Wilson said farmers need the bill interpreted soon. Weather permitting, rice farmers start planting in just over a month. Every situation is different, he said, depending on wet or dry fields, size of the farm, the amount of preparation needed and other factors. Rice goes in as early as March 20 and some farmers would plant up to May.

Rice acreage was off significantly last year, he said. Farmers faced a long, wet spring then and acreage dropped to about one million acres, not only because weather but also because of high soybean and corn prices.


Acreage should be back up this year because soy and corn prices have fallen, Wilson said.
The support model is shifting to insurance, which is much more favorable to other commodities, Wilson said. It doesn’t work as well for rice, which is a heavily irrigated crop.

Calhoun says the USDA is working with insurers to come up with insurance that works better for rice farmers, by figuring in the high cost of energy to pump water for that heavily irrigated crop.


While much of the attention during the farm bill debate was centered on farm subsidies and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, both of which are important to thousands of Arkansans, the farm bill is much more than these two issues, according to Calhoun. 

“It would surprise many who don’t live and breathe agriculture, but this bill addresses such a broad range of issues that, at the end of the day, play a tremendous role in the well-being of all Arkansans and our state’s economy. The farm bill, in its entirety, is arguably the most critical piece of federal legislation for Arkansas’ economy and its people,” Calhoun said.

This bill provided major reforms to the commodity-support programs and the nutrition program, saving taxpayers roughly $23 billion. 

“The safety net programs provide a more level playing field with global competitors and help keep our farmers and ranchers in business, thus maintaining a safe, abundant and affordable domestically produced supply of food,” Calhoun said. 

Conservation — The bill provides cost-share assistance to producers who reserve farmland for wildlife habitat and implement soil and water conservation practices. 

Trade — The bill provides funding to help promote U.S. agriculture products and develop export markets around the globe. 

Nutrition — The bill provides food assistance for low-income families and school meals for children.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program) helps not only hungry, low income Americans, but also the agriculture and food processing industries as it allows for food purchases that would not happen otherwise. 

Credit — The bill provides affordable and accessible credit for farmers and rural businesses. This includes farm operations, housing, infrastructure development and other farm and rural business needs. 

Rural Development — The bill provides funding for economic-development projects in rural communities. Funding under this title goes towards rural broadband systems, rural housing, water and wastewater systems, and telemedicine.  It also includes rural business and industry loans and grants, which support small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Research — The bill provides funding for critical agriculture research in seed development, nutrition, conservation, marketing and best management practices.

Forestry — The bill provides funding for the forestry service and timber industry, including firefighting funds and forest pest management. 

Energy — The bill helps deliver electricity to rural communities and supports rural-electric cooperatives. It also provides support for renewable fuels from bio-based sources.

Horticulture — The bill contains numerous provisions that help specialty-crop producers of fruits, vegetables and other plants.
Miscellaneous — The Live-stock section supports food safety and inspection services for imported catfish.  It also provides disaster assistance for livestock producers through programs to help eradicate feral swine and supports disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers to encourage new generations of food producers.

TOP STORY >> English saves option

Leader senior staff writer

Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) moved private-option health care for the working poor a step closer to reality by saying she’s now for it, while another local lawmaker, Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin), was among a handful in the House slamming the door — for now.

Funding for private-option health care failed by five to get the needed 75 votes in the House on Tuesday, prompting Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) to say he would bring it to a vote every day until it’s approved.

Carter sets the House calendar.

As a funding bill, it requires 75 percent passage in both houses of the General Assembly. That’s 75 of 100 votes in the House and 27 of 35 votes in the Senate.

Carter was clearly unhappy, particularly with representatives like Ann Clemmer (R-Benton), who suddenly changed her vote.

“We’ll vote tomorrow,” Carter said Tuesday, “and everyday until private option passes.”

The Senate is also expected to vote on the bill Wednesday.

He said negotiations are over and those standing in the way of health care insurance for the working poor will “own it.” (See editorial, p. 8A.)

“I’m not going to let a handful of members dictate this process,” he said. “Theoretically, we could vote 25 more days.”

Carter said he thought he heard a couple of “campaign speeches” given on the floor by those opposing the measure.

He said it was just wrong to tell state residents six months ago that private option was the law of the land then refuse to fund it after they had given up on or lost other insurance.

Rep. Mark Perry (D- Jacksonville) said after Tuesday’s vote, “I think they will eventually come around. I think we have some folks who are confusing it with the Affordable Care Act and don’t understand who it helps.”

Carter has said he won’t be asking the nays to change their votes, but Perry said, “We’ll educate them behind the scenes.

“I think it will be passed before Friday,” Perry said.

English, a long-time foe of Medicaid expansion in any form, announced Monday that she agreed to become the critical 27th vote needed in the state Senate to fund private option.

While she said the workforce reform and her vote on public option were linked, Gov. Mike Beebe stopped short of calling it quid pro quo.

English said the agreement didn’t have any direct impact on the area she represents — no new facility or program aimed at North Little Rock or Sherwood, where she had served as a state representative.

English said she had been in talks with Beebe and his cabinet for several weeks trying to garner support for realignment of workforce education, a longtime interest of hers.

Among other things, her agreement with the governor would provide millions for training and for college and career readiness, an evaluation of existing Department of Higher Education programs and a funding formula for two-year colleges, according to a report in Talk Business.

“We need to turn the system upside down, to look at K-12 education,” English said. “Twenty-five or 30 percent drop out of school. Many others drop out mentally, going to school but turned off and with no successful future.

“Not everyone fits in that college box. We need an alternate plan,” she said. “We need to catch them before they drop out and offer other skills. We need to take pots of money around the state for training and centralize them.”

English called Arkansas a welfare state. She said there are about 30,000 unfilled jobs in the state and that people need to learn the skills to fill them.

“I’m not a fan of Obama-care,” she said. “I wish we weren’t even talking about this.

About the education issues,  English said, “The states around us got the message that something isn’t working, and they are doing good things.”

Tennessee announced last week that it would make two-year colleges free for its residents.

The fact that 250,000 working Arkansans were eligible for public-option health care shows the sorry state of education and job training in the state, she said.

English said she was optimistic that with proper changes in workforce education, maybe this time next year, there won’t be 250,000 people eligible.

“I still believe in the American dream,” English said. “I believe people would like to have a good paying job, a house and a family.”

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Badgers earn huge win over Tech

Leader sportswriter

Sophomore post player Gracie Anders flirted with a triple-double and the Beebe Lady Badgers avenged one of its two conference losses in the 5A-East with a 52-33 win over Greene County Tech on Friday at Badger Arena.

The win moves Beebe into a tie with GCT for second place, but the margin of victory gives the Lady Badgers the edge  in the tiebreaker. The Lady Eagles only beat Beebe 49-43 in January.

After a close three quarters of play, the Lady Badgers outscored Tech 19-5 in the fourth quarter.

Beebe (14-6, 8-2) led at the end of each quarter, but couldn’t find much separation on the scoreboard until the final quarter of play. The Lady Badgers led 13-10 after the first eight minutes, 20-19 at halftime, and took a 33-28 lead into the fourth quarter.

Lady Eagle guard Alyssa Beasley scored a bucket for Greene County Tech (14-8, 7-2) at the start of the fourth quarter that cut Beebe’s lead to three, but the visitors didn’t make another shot from the floor until the game had all but ended.

“We started spreading our 3-2 zone out a lot,” said Beebe girls’ coach Greg Richey of the fourth quarter. “I told them ‘I’m tired of watching them (GCT) shoot threes.’ The first time we played them they made eight shots inside the lane. They want to shoot threes.

“So that’s what we did there, and then we started on the offensive end, and started not turning the ball over. These girls came out and did what they needed to do.” 

Beebe outscored GCT 13-9 in the third quarter, and all of the Lady Eagles’ points in that time came from 3-point range. They didn’t make a single three in the fourth quarter.

After Beasley’s bucket, Beebe answered with a 7-0 run that pushed its lead to double digits for the first time, leading 40-30.

The 10-point lead came after Lady Badger senior Kalela Miller hit a jumper near the three-minute mark.

The Lady Eagles’ scoring drought continued, and the Lady Badgers kept their foot on the offensive accelerator. Beebe added 10 more points to its side of the scoreboard before GCTcould manage a single point.

The 17-0 run was capped with a bucket inside by Anders with 30 seconds to play, which put Beebe up 50-30.

Beasley went to the line on the Lady Eagles’ next possession and made a free throw to put an end to their scoring drought.

With 11.3 seconds left, Kassidy Elam sank a pair of free throws to cap Beebe’s points total for the night, and with two seconds remaining, GCT’s Lara White scored on an inside bucket to set the final score.

Both teams had 27 rebounds, but Beebe had the better shooting percentage.

The Lady Badgers made 18 of 40 shots from the floor for 45 percent. GCT made 13 of 50 from the field for 26 percent.

At the free-throw line, Beebe made 15 of 21 for 71 percent, bettering the Lady Eagles’ 6 of 15 showing at the stripe for 40 percent. Both teams made 25 percent of their threes, but GCT had far more attempts. The Lady Eagles were 5 for 20 from 3-point range. Beebe was 1 for 4.

Beebe finished with 13 turnovers, five fewer than GCT’s 18. The Lady Badgers committed just four in the second half, bettering the Lady Eagles’ total of 11.

Miller led all scorers with 18 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter, which helped spark the Lady Badgers’ offensive onslaught in that time.

“When it comes crunch time, she doesn’t let us lose,” Richey said of Miller. “She only had five points at Blytheville the other night, but she was sharing the basketball, and then at Batesville she did the same thing.

“Then tonight, when she had to score she scored. That’s the sign of a good player when they start adjusting to what the defense is doing.”

Anders recorded a double-double as she scored 10 points and snagged 12 rebounds, but she also had seven blocks, which was easily a game high.

Fellow sophomore and point guard Taylor McGraw also scored in double figures. She had 13 points and four assists.

The Lady Badgers continued conference play yesterday at home against Forrest City, and will hit the road Friday for their next 5A-East game when they travel to Nettleton for a 6 p.m. tip-off.

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits lock up two seed in finale

Leader sports editor

Senior Night was a great one at the Gina Cox Center on Friday. That’s where the Lonoke boys’ and girls’ basketball teams won their regular-season finales against Heber Springs. And the games weren’t that close. The Jackrabbit boys won 68-52 while the Lady Rabbits won 62-43. A lot was on the line in the boys’ game. The winner got the No. 2 seed in the 4A-2 District tournament that began on Monday in Marianna.

Lonoke beat Heber Springs earlier in the season, but both teams entered Friday’s finale with 10-3 league records. The Panthers swept conference champion Dollarway, and entered Friday’s game fresh off their second win over the Cardinals. But they had also split with Newport and Stuttgart, as well as losing at home to Lonoke.

“It all boils down to matchups,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell. “They apparently match up really well with Dollarway. They’ve beaten them twice and once pretty badly. We match up well with Heber Springs it looks like. We did a really good job defensively early on and then really got going on offense in the second half.”
Lonoke trailed by four points at halftime, trailing 22-18, before rolling up 50 in the second half.

“A couple of things happened later on in the second quarter that made me think we were starting to calm down a little bit and get into a rhythm,” Campbell said. “We were just a little bit better at sharing the ball. We had a lot of movement on offense and in the third quarter, we kept that up and started making shots. We shot the ball really well in the second half.”

Heber Springs scored the first two points of the third quarter to take a 24-18 lead, but four minutes later, the Jackrabbits were up 35-24 after a 17-0 run. Things evened out from there, and Lonoke took a 47-36 lead into the final period, where another quick burst sealed the deal for the home team.

“They started rushing shots and didn’t get many offensive rebounds,” Campbell said. “Heber always seems to bring out the best in us. Some of our guys know each other really well and makes it that much more competitive and intense. And that’s the way conference games should be.”

Lonoke’s Jamel Rankin led all scorers with 20 points. Blake Mack added 18 and Darrius McCall scored 13. Willie Adkins led Heber Springs with 18 points, all on 3-pointers. He made five in the second half.

Earning the two seed means Lonoke gets a bye to the semifinals and an automatic berth in the regional tournament next week at Clinton.

They play at 5:15 Thursday and it could end up being against Heber Springs. The Panthers played last night against Stuttgart, who beat Southside-Batesville on Mon-day. The winner of Tuesday’s game faces Lonoke on Thursday.

The girls’ match featured the top two teams in the league, and no matter the outcome, the Lady Panthers would be the No. 1 seed and their hosts the two seed in the district tournament. Heber Springs beat Lonoke by four points in the first meeting, but the Lady Jackrabbits dominated the second half. It was Heber Springs’ first conference loss of the season.

“We’re not 19 points better than them,” said Lonoke coach Nathan Morris. “We’re pretty even teams. On some nights they might be the four points better than us they were when they beat us. There’s not a lot of difference there with these two teams. They play a different style than us because of who they’ve got and who we’ve got, but it’s usually going to be a pretty good ball game when Lonoke and Heber Springs play.”

Heber Springs’ Hannah and Skylar Johnson combined for all 15 of the visiting team’s points in the first quarter, and it was good enough for a two-point lead. That changed drastically in the second quarter, as Lonoke tightened up on defense and held the Lady Panthers to a single 3-pointer. Lonoke went into halftime with a 23-18 lead before battling through an almost even third quarter.

“In the second quarter, we hedged screens a little better with our bigs and kept them from penetrating like they did in the first,” Morris said. “They have excellent guard play and we did a good job on them for the most part.”

Lonoke couldn’t keep the Johnsons out of the lane as effectively in the third, but was able to counter their offense by pounding the ball inside. Lonoke junior post player Eboni Willis scored 11 of the team’s 18 points in the third, including three and-ones.

“Her size and her presence make a difference for us,” Morris said. “And it’s just her inside game has gotten better. She’s getting her body turned around and getting her feet in better position to finish. And we’re playing teams that don’t have a big inside presence to contend with her. So she should be effective for us.”

Willis led all scorers with 24 points while forward Amanda Sexton scored 16 and Jarrelyn McCall added 15.

“I really thought the other two guards played extremely well even though they only combined for four points,” Morris said. “Kerasha Johnson and Callie Whitfield did a great job executing against their press and they defended the ball well. They’re the ones that created the openings for the ones that did the scoring.”

Lonoke will play at 4 p.m. Thursday in Marianna against the winner of last night’s matchup between Clinton and Stuttgart.

Stuttgart won its first-round game against Dollarway on Monday for the right to play Tuesday.

Heber Springs will also play Thursday against Tuesday’s winner between Newport and Southside-Batesville.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils take two from Lions

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils started and finished an exciting win over Little Rock McClellan with thunderous dunks on Friday, and they were by two of the biggest factors in the game. Senior post player Kanaan Jackson scored the game’s first points with a two-handed slam after a steal and assist by sophomore LaQuawn Smith.

Jackson and junior post Tedrick Wolfe finished it with back-to-back-to-back one-handed monsters to emphatically put a stamp on the 77-67 victory.

Jackson and Wolfe combined to score 34 points and grab 21 rebounds. Both players scored 17 and Jackson was one board better than Wolfe.

All five Red Devil starters scored in double figures.

“Coach always tells us to come out strong and not let them get in the first punch,” said Wolfe. “He’s been telling us to work it from the inside out and for us to be more aggressive, and I feel like we’re doing better at that.”

“We’re getting better at playing team basketball,” said Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner. “We’re still having too many lulls where we’re not sticking to the game plan and executing. I just like mine to play steadily hard. I don’t like them to go up and
down and that’s what they did.”

McClellan started the game in a 2-3-zone defense and it surprised Jacksonville, who wasn’t able to create a good shot early. But the defense picked up the slack when Smith stole the ball just after it crossed midcourt, and fed Jackson streaking to the basket.

On the next possession, good interior passing sliced up the zone and Jackson found Wolfe under the basket for an easy layup and a 4-0 lead.

McClellan coach Christopher Threatt called timeout and switched to a zone press. That went even worse for the Lions. When Wolfe scored with 3:26 left in the opening quarter, it gave Jacksonville a 13-2 lead, which grew to as much as 19-6 before McClellan got back to within 23-13 by the start of the second.

Jacksonville’s biggest lead of the first half came at the 5:45 mark when a Devin Campbell 3-pointer made it 30-15. McClellan then scored six straight, starting when Andre Jones drove around Wolfe and down the middle of the lane for a two-handed slam. Jackson then bumped him as he turned to run back on defense, and was called for a foul, giving the Lions the ball back. Jones scored again, and then Keith Hayes added two free throws to make it 30-21 with 3:49 left in the half.

The Red Devils maintained that 11-point advantage until halftime, taking a 41-30 lead into the break.

Jacksonville, 20-3, 11-0, opened the third quarter with an 11-2 run to take its biggest lead of the game at 52-32 with 3:20 left in the period, but McClellan wasn’t going away just yet.

The Lions, 14-8, 6-4, slowly battled back and pulled to within 59-51 with 5:07 left in the game. At 61-53, Smith made the play that changed the momentum back to the home team. The sophomore guard missed the front end of a one-and-one with all four teammates back for defense. But he caught the Lions sleeping. The ball made a lap around the rim before springing outward, where Smith leaped for the rebound and put it back in for a 10-point lead.

“That’s just a hustle play right there,” Joyner said. “That was a big basketball play. But I’ll tell you what the key to this game was. When I put that second string in there and they survived for three minutes and forty-six seconds. McClellan made a push, but they burned so much energy. When I put the starters back in there they couldn’t keep it going.”

The Lions still had one run left. After falling behind by 14 again, the visitors rallied back to within 71-63 with 1:15 remaining, but then began the trio of dunks that sealed the deal.

With a minute remaining, Wolfe got the first of the three, and then added the second 15 seconds later. Exactly 15 seconds after that, Jackson finished off the 6-0 run of dunks to make it 77-63. McClellan added two buckets to set the final margin.

Wolfe says the players agree with their coach, that improvement is still needed despite the current 15-game winning streak.

“We’re getting stronger and stronger every day, but I think we still have a few things we have to work on to get better,” Wolfe said. “We still have a few holes we have to fill to be a championship-level team.”

Campbell scored 11 points while Smith and Sergio Berkley had 10 each for Jacksonville. Berkley also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lady Red Devils picked up another easy win, beating the Lady Lions 69-42 to improve to 14-7 overall and 10-1 in conference play. Senior guard Tiffany Smith led the way for Jacksonville with 23 points.

SPORTS STORY >> Panther pair gets second at state

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers’ wrestling team finished 11th overall at the Arkansas High School State Wrestling Tournament on Saturday at the Jack Stephens Center on the campus of UALR, and two Panther wrestlers left the tournament as state runner-up in their respective weight classes.

As a team, Cabot totaled 107.5 points, which was one point behind Jonesboro, who finished 10th with 108.5 points, and 5.5 points higher than 12th-place Conway, who totaled 102.

Little Rock Catholic, who was the favorite going into the tournament, finished first overall in the class 6A/7A division with 255.5 points. Bentonville finished second with 229 points. Springdale Har-Ber was third with 208.5. Rogers Heritage was fourth with 168.5 points, and Greenwood took fifth in the team scores with 141.

“We were wrestling with a lot of young kids this year,” said Cabot wrestling coach Jason Rogers. “The competition in the 6A/7A has gotten way better over the last four-to-five years. I had some kids win some matches I wasn’t expecting them to win, and I had some kids that were a little bit of a disappointment. But overall, it was about where I thought we’d be.”

Individually, Cabot was unable to bring home a state champion, but the Panthers did have two make it all the way to the championship round.

Sophomore Austin Dye, who was the 106-pound state champion last year as a freshman, advanced to the 113-pound championship round after beating Fayetteville’s Jay Branch (21-4) by an 11-1 major decision.

Dye took on Har-Ber’s Kimble Jennings (36-12) in the championship round, where he lost a close 1-0 decision. It was only Dye’s second loss of the season and he finished 2014 with a record of 26-2.

“The Jennings kid from Har-Ber is a good wrestler,” Rogers said. “We were right there at the end. I thought we were going to get a two-point reversal, but we couldn’t get it in time.”

Erik Cooley, a junior, was the other Panther wrestler that left Saturday’s tournament with a runner-up medal. Cooley advanced to the championship round of the 138-pound division by winning a 7-4 decision over Har-Ber’s Coltin Morgan (42-18) in the semifinals.

Cooley took on Taylor Compton (41-1) of Greenwood in the championship match, where he lost a 10-2 decision. It was Cooley’s lone loss of the year, and he finished the 2014 season with a stellar 26-1 record.

“We knew it was going to be tough going into it,” Rogers said of Cooley’s championship match. “Cooley really wrestled hard. The Compton kid had pinned two kids already in the tournament, so we knew he was able to score points. He (Cooley) stayed alive in the third period and did everything we asked of him. It was tough matches for both of them (Cooley and Dye).”

Freshman Cameron Pitch-ford and junior Michael Morgan were the only other Panther wrestlers that made it to the medal round. Pitchford finished fifth in the 106-pound weight class by winning a tight 4-3 decision over Jordan Peterson (31-12) of Mountain Home. The win improved Pitchford’s 2014 record to 21-7. 

Morgan advanced to the medal round in the 145-pound division by pinning Greenwood’s Luke Palmer (20-19) at the 2:48 mark of the consolation semifinals. In the fifth-place match, Har-Ber’s Nathan Washburn won a close 1-0 decision over Morgan, which gave Morgan a sixth-place finish. Morgan ended the 2014 season with a 21-9 record.

Hayden Mills, a junior, and sophomore Gage Long didn’t advance to the medal round of the state tournament, but both had winning records this season for the Panthers. Mills ended the season with a 17-6 record, and Long finished the year 14-8.

SPORTS STORY >> Badger medalist is a lady

Beebe sophomore Destiny Nunez earned the third-place medal for the 106-pound weight class after she won an 11-8 decision over Greenbrier’s Tyler Hardin, who had a 23-12 record going into the match.

“Destiny, she’s the only girl that medaled,” said Beebe coach David Payne. “To be an All-State wrestler as a female in a male-dominated sport, that’s impressive. She’s a determined kid. She works her butt off.”

Nunez’s only loss in the tournament came against state runner-up Zac Reece of Bismarck in the quarterfinal round, but after the loss, Nunez reeled off two-straight wins by pinfall to advance to the third-place match.

In the third-place match against Hardin, the two wrestlers were knotted up at 8-8 on the scoreboard, but in the final minute, Nunez got the takedown she needed to give her the three points that sealed the win. Nunez not only got a medal for finishing third, but with the top-three finish, she’s automatically an All-State selection. 

“When it got to 8-8,” said Nunez, “there was a minute left and I was like, no, I have to get more than eight. I wasn’t going to give up because I’ve worked so hard this season.”

“She goes to volleyball practice and then comes to wrestling,” Payne said. “She’s very much deserving of being an All-State selection.”

Nunez finished the season with an 8-5 record.

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe puts eight in finals

Leader sportswriter

The Beebe Badgers’ wrestling team finished sixth overall in the class 1A-5A division at the Arkansas High School State Wrestling Tournament on Saturday at UALR’s Jack Stephens Center.

Beebe’s 155 team points was half a point shy of tying Little Rock Christian for fifth place in the team standings. Maumelle all but dominated the competition on their way to the team title, racking up 352.5 points, which easily outpointed second-place Bismarck’s 198 points.

Central Arkansas Christian took third place in the team standings with 196.5 points, and Greenbrier secured fourth with 192.5 points.

The Badgers didn’t have any individual state champions at the event, but had eight leave the tournament with medals, including the only girl at the tournament to medal, sophomore Destiny Nunez.

While Nunez might have been the only girl to medal at the tournament, she wasn’t the only Badger wrestler to end the tournament with a win. Of Beebe’s eight medalists, six won their final matches of the tournament.

Senior Matthew Whitaker joined Nunez as a third-place medalist after he won a close 4-3 decision over Nick Stancil (20-7) of Bismarck. Whitaker, who ended the season with a 12-5 record in the 138-pound weight class, advanced to the third-place match by pinning Greenbrier’s Hunter Glover (19-18) in the consolation semifinals.

Seniors Alex Warner and Jackson Snelson finished fourth in their weight classes. Snelson (11-7), of the 145-pound weight class, advanced to the third-place match after beating Griffin Payne (15-19) of Berryville by pinfall, but Snelson lost a 4-0 decision to Hunter Goss (34-6) of Greenbrier in the third-place match.

Warner (7-7) advanced to the third-place match of the 195-pound weight class after winning a 7-4 decision over Bismarck’s Shelby Orr (21-10), but Warner lost an 8-3 decision to Joseph Bentley (10-4) of Little Rock Christian in the third-place match.

Beebe’s fifth-place medalists include 160-pound senior Jessie Glover (14-7), 170-pound junior Hunter King (13-5), 126-pound junior Micah Dubose (9-5), and 120-pound sophomore Justin Brannon (8-5), all of whom won their final matches Saturday.

Junior Zane Tallion didn’t medal at the state tournament, but finished the season with a winning record of 11-3.